Sukkot and the housing shortage

As the whole country is abuzz with the sound of sukkot being built, it’s a shame that the government doesn’t take a lesson from it all. And by “it’s a shame” I mean, it’s shameful. Why? Because the issue that kicked off this summer’s nationwide protest movement is the crushing cost of housing, and because sukkah building provides a clue to solving it.

Consider this: Building my family’s sukkah only takes an hour. Granted, it’s only 6 square meters. But to build a sukkah four times that size would only require another 30 minutes. With help, I could build a sukkah large enough to seat everyone in my apartment building in less time than it takes the pizza place to deliver a couple large pies.

How is this possible? Modular construction. The materials are light, strong, uniform and long-lasting. Construction is so simple that it requires no more than a rubber mallet and a step stool. Beyond sukkah building, though, modular construction is used in only a small percentage of Israeli housing and commercial construction.

Of course, building sturdy apartments is a much tougher matter than building sukkot. But Israeli construction companies make it tougher than it needs to be. Contractors may blame the slow work of municipal inspectors and other factors beyond their control, but the fact is that the contractors just aren’t very efficient.

Honestly, I’m not very good with a hammer — but I know what’s possible. I grew up in South Florida during the construction boom of the 1980s, when entire shopping malls were erected within a few months. Here, by contrast, the construction of small, uncomplicated buildings can drag on for years. It doesn’t take the producers of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, who manage to build enormous, ultra-modern homes in just a single week (the length of the Sukkot holiday!) to tell you how unnecessary that is. What’s worse is that this snail’s pace of construction costs every one of us — renters and homeowners alike — unfathomable sums.

Using modular construction and other modern, cost-saving techniques would reduce building costs by cutting down on materials, labor and clean-up — significant savings in time and money that would make the cost of housing much, much less of the burden that it is now.

The protest tents that captured the country’s attention all summer have come down, but the housing crunch is as strong as ever. As the government contemplates ways of lowering the cost of living, let’s hope they see the potential brilliance of the simple sukkah.

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First fratricide, then fracture

The attack on an IDF patrol by settler thugs that Haaretz is reporting today would merely be the latest in a long string of such deplorable acts, including several recent but relatively harmless acts of “price tag” vandalism.

The story inspires several thoughts. Here are four:

1) These kids are nothing but thugs — and morons, if they think that this kind of thing will bring them anything positive.

2) There are people here who excuse violence against the state and its agents by Arab citizens, on the grounds that they feel targeted and discriminated against. Those people would never apply that same argument to settlers or haredim — and for that, I call them out as hypocrites. All three of those sectors have very similar feelings toward the state, and very similar reasons for having them. Excusing only one group’s thuggery while excoriating the other two exposes a failure of intellectual rigor, or of moral fiber, or both.

3) Related to the second point: None of those sectors is justified in its actions toward the state in response to those feelings; none, in fact, deserves anyone’s defense of their violence. The estrangement that each group feels from the state is much more a result of their own twisted policies of rejection of the state than any (fictitious) policy the state has of rejecting them.

4) Related to the third point: Feelings of shock and disgust at the settlers’ attack on soldiers are meaningless without the recognition that the only way to prevent such acts in the future is for the government to stop allowing and encouraging the situation in which every special interest group in this country exploits the state and undermines it in order to establish its own private authority, answerable to no one.